Finding Creativity, writing prompts

Finding Inspiration in Mind Traps

Welcome, Word Wonderers!

So much of creativity is the ability to make space for yourself. It’s too easy to talk yourself out of an exciting project before you even begin because someone else has already accomplished it. The ability to push that mind trap aside and allow space for your creativity to bloom is why I was immediately interested in this picture book debut by another Alabama author, Shae Owens Holley. Welcome to the Wonder of Words, Shae! What inspired you to write Rue the sparrow’s story, IT’S ALREADY BEEN DONE BEFORE?

Shae: I wrote “It’s Already Been Done Before” around 9 years ago as an unfinished rhyming story with no defined main character at the time. I was inspired by my own personal struggle with self-comparison as a creative entrepreneur, a photographer in the middle of juggling a business and a toddler. The world of social media was taking a toll on my time and mental health. I quickly realized I was literally talking myself out of doing projects I wanted to do because I was watching others do it better – so I told myself, why bother? It’s already been done before! As we allow doubt and feelings of overwhelm change and rule our mind, creativity, effort and work suffer and cease. In most industries, especially those of a creative essence, whether it’s photography or writing or artwork, we are constantly bombarded with self-inflicted comparison. It shuts down our creative license because we already have allowed it. Those thoughts became the inspiration for this story, which was really just a framework at the time. It was only in recent years when I made the characters animals instead of humans and the setting in a forest. I wanted the characters to be relatable to all people and ages so I opted out of the human element.

Candice: The quote you included at the beginning of your book is perfect: “Comparison is the thief of joy”–Theodore Roosevelt. It’s so true. What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Shae: Actually putting the book together and seeing the layout with both text and illustrations was my favorite part! I love design, so being able to contribute and tweak things along the way was really exciting to me. My book (and maybe most children’s books) would not be what it is without the artwork bringing life to the words and giving them a relatable face. I definitely learned the importance of editing – even with a one-page poem – and realized why this process takes time. This can obviously take years. A book isn’t a blog and cannot be changed or corrected in real time.

Rue the Sparrow and her dad. Isn’t the color palette perfect? So many soothing greens, but then that moody sky. And Rue is definitely in a mood any creative can relate to!

I would also add that the beginning is also my favorite part of any creative process – that moment when you actually start and form the idea. I think getting to that point is one of the hardest, but once you begin, the world is your oyster.

Candice: I agree on the importance of artwork in picture books! Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? Do they cross into your writing?

 Shae: I was a professional photographer for twelve years which influenced WHY I wrote this story – but photography definitely inspired the illustrations and to whom I choose to outsource the artwork. I also love to be outdoors and hike so I’m sure the fact that my characters are woodland creatures was influenced by my love for being amongst trees.

Candice: I loved the artwork! (Probably because I too love to be outdoors amongst the trees.) So vibrant and fun. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

 Shae: I think not boxing yourself into one avenue is key to unlocking creativity. We can become so consumed with defining ourselves by what we do, that we become ‘that one thing’, but we are so much more complex. Sometimes constraints and limitations make you more creative because you have to utilize what is available. Also, realizing creativity can be found in all things, from cooking, parenting, to even rearranging a junk drawer. We just have to embrace life experiences and even times of quiet or waiting for the next thing, and see the routine from another angle. I’m not sure if any of that is an actual tip, but my advice is to look for the beauty in routine and make something from it. Pay attention to the details of your life, your house, expressions, the way light changes the same object throughout the day, the little things. I also get inspired by music – listening to songs that speak to me actually helps me write or paint at times and can help spark creativity.

I love how supportive all Rue’s forest friends are–even when one of them gently calls her out!

Candice: I’m still searching for my creativity in rearranging junk drawers, lol–and I love that you included mundane tasks in creative ventures. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

 Shae: Sure! “It’s Already Been Done Before” is my first published children’s book. I’ve written parts of two or three other books but this has been my only children’s book and was the most complete which is why my publisher pushed this one first, besides its message. My next project is a bit ongoing as it’s inspired by my daughter who is eleven. It will be a compilation of memories and poems but written for a larger audience. One of those coffee table books that’s already been done before, you know? 😉 But that is what makes it unique – that it is personal, it is written from my experience and thoughts, and despite being a theme that has truly been done, this version has not.

Candice: That’s absolutely right! It’s the parts of ourselves that we pour into books that makes them stand out–even if they’ve been done before. Thank you for being here, Shae. Congrats on your debut children’s book and finding creativity even in mind traps!

IT’S ALREADY BEEN DONE BEFORE may be purchased on Shae’s website and at Barnes & Noble. Request her book at your local library and/or indie bookstore.

Shae’s adorable pup has her own hashtag #pumpkinholleythecorgi
Photo credit:  Chelsea Patricia Photography

Shae Holley is an entrepreneur, environmental engineer, blogger, photographer, recipe-destroyer, and tea addict. She loves sharing the message that we have all been given unique gifts and God-given talents. Although they may be similar to others, we cannot compare ourselves or cease effort simply because it’s already been done before. You may find her at

Illustrated by Maryam Fiaz.

Call to creativity: is there a mind trap you find yourself stuck in? How could you use it to inspire creativity?

Finding Creativity, writing prompts

Stalking Inspiration with Michelle Vattula

Welcome, Wonderers! Today’s guest on finding inspiration is picture book author, Michelle Vattula. Michelle and I met in the New in ’19 debut group, though both of our books were pushed back to 2021. Happily, her book, THE STALKING SEAGULLS, released April 20th. I thoroughly enjoyed how her main character, Alec, uses his creativity and wits, along with sandcastles and beach ball blockades, to eat his sandwich at the beach in peace, though I had a good laugh at how the story ended.

Candice: Thanks for being here, Michelle! Where did you get the inspiration for THE STALKING SEAGULLS?

Michelle: I was on vacation in Florida visiting my parents. We took our boys to the beach. When the snacks came out, so did the seagulls.

Candice: Oh my goodness, yes. I totally felt Alec’s frustration. I had a Dorito snatched from my hand one time at the beach. It was almost IN. MY. MOUTH. Add injury to insult, the seagull’s wing even cuffed me on the back of the head when it stole my snack! They can be very determined. What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Michelle: When I initially get the spark for an idea and run with it. Once the idea pops in my head, I just sit down and write wherever I am. I have more notes on random pieces of paper, lol. The words flow out so much easier when the idea is spontaneous. The feeling of completing the story after dozens of revisions is wonderful too. I adore coming up with book titles. Sometimes I have the name of the book before I have the story. 

Candice: Titles are tough for many of us so that’s great you have that super power! Do you have other creative outlets? Do they cross into your writing?

Michelle: I love to anything with music. I have been playing the piano since I was 5. Playing is extremely cathartic (when I have time to do it). I also love to dance. I do Zumba throughout the week. I have written a few manuscripts that have dancing in them. One funny, lyrical and has dancing cows. The other more serious about a mother/son relationship. 

Candice: Zumba is so much fun though it’s been years (pre-kids!) since I’ve joined a class. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

Michelle: My creativity usually comes when I’m doing something mindless like walking, cleaning or taking a shower.

I always tell writers to take time away from the craziness of life because it allows your mind to focus on simple concepts without being overwhelmed. I also find that writing using emotion tends to work for me. I like to tap into deep feelings that people are feeling but don’t like to talk about. 

Candice: Creativity usually seems to inspire more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

Michelle: I have at least 5 more completed manuscripts and many more that are in their revision stage. I love to write about cows, but I have numerous ones that touch upon subjects such as mother/son relationships, aging family members, and participating in different cultural experiences. 

All great and important subjects! Thanks again for being here, Michelle!

Y’all be sure to request THE STALKING SEAGULLS at your library or local independent bookstore. It’s available online at MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing, and to support indie bookstores.

Michelle was born in Boston but grew up most of her life in Erie, PA. After She received her Bachelor degree from Miami University of Ohio, she ventured back to Boston for her Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Northeastern University. Michelle currently lives in the beautiful rolling hills of North Pittsburgh with her Finnish husband, her two Golden Retrievers (one who is a therapy dog) and her two beautiful boys who are her true inspiration for writing.

Michelle’s debut picture book, THE STALKING SEAGULLS, was released by MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing on April 20, 2021. Michelle is part of the Western Pennsylvania SCBWI leadership team as their New Member and Critique Group Coordinator. She is also a proud member of the twitter group #Newin19. Michelle is represented by T.J Kirsch from JCH Literary. She is open for interviews and virtual visits.

T.L. Derby is a children’s book author and Illustrator. She has turned her love for writing and art into her career. Now she helps others to make their dreams come true as a publisher. She is educated with a BFA in Creative Writing for Entertainment and an MFA in Creative Writing. She is also an autodidact in illustrating, screenwriting, and painting for over 20 years. Her love for children makes what she does a gift from her to the world

Call to Creativity: What frustrates YOU? Use your emotions, like Michelle suggested, and brainstorm a story of your own!